~ Psychedelic Assisted Therapy ~
~ Death Doula ~
~ Sex and Relationship Coaching ~
~ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ~
~ Astrology Readings ~
~ Life Reviews ~
Gaia: Can you tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background or some of your interests?
Jessica: My name is Jessica Burris, I was born in a small rural town in Nova Scotia. I was raised predominantly by my grandparents. They owned a small chain of restaurant/doughnut shops. I spent much of my childhood in them socializing with the customers, who were mostly elderly people. Due to the fact that many of the patrons were elders, I learned about death at quite a young age. My family was really good at helping me navigate and allowing me to choose how much of each death process I wanted to partake in.
Death was always a normalized aspect of life. My grandfather is native and he passed down many of the traditions of how to communicate and interact with nature. He taught me to survive in the wild, how to fish, and how to forge and grow my own food, mirroring the cycle of life and always giving proper gratitude to its process. Growing up in a small rural town when I got to be a teenager, I had to deal with a lot of death within my peer group due to the poverty factor. In hindsight all of these things set me up for my path.
When I wasn’t in my grandparents’ shop I was running around the woods, chasing water falls (Nova Scotia has the most per capita in Canada!) or by the ocean often with a book or journal found in my hand. I also often found dead animals in the woods and would make my family partake in “fake funerals” for them.
Gaia: What prompted you to become a Death Doula? Can you explain what a Death Doula is and what you offer as far as services are concerned?
Jessica: For those who may not know, a death doula or death midwife is someone that helps you plan what you would want your death to look like from the comfort of your own home, like a death planner. All of the little details from scents you’d like present, to music played, who you would like there and everything in between. We help people decide what they would like to have happen with their body and assist with various care giving tasks. Explore potential fears and help to alleviate them usually via some sort of creative legacy project. Sometimes interwoven with psychedelic assisted therapy depending on where the client is at in the active dying process and their openness/calling to it. Death doulas were largely modeled after birthing doulas. It’s the same thing, just for the end.
Gaia: What do you find rewarding/challenging about being a Death Doula?
Jessica: I find it extremely rewarding work, my highest calling is to alleviate all unnecessary suffering. The human experience requires suffering but we create a lot that doesn’t need to be there. Of course it can be challenging at times as I have to navigate these same things for myself. I have to maintain energetic boundaries and be very on top of my own self care. I also face my own grief with clients and always give space for it. There seems to be a common misconception that people that do this work don’t “feel” grief. It’s all bout emotional regulation and that means allowing the emotions to move through.
Gaia: You mentioned to me that earlier in your life, offering the services you do now, that you worked as a Nurses Aid & earned a Youth Worker diploma with a focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. What first prompted you take those paths of work and learning?
Jessica: I began my path of being of service to others at 18 years old. I studied in a small private college in my hometown. At first I thought I wanted to work with youth and focused on getting a youth worker Diploma but the program heavily focused on cognitive behavioural therapy and I was cross-trained to work with all age groups. Upon graduating I started working at an at risk youth shelter. Jobs are a serious scarcity in Nova Scotia and the job I was hired for was a sought after position as it was a government paying job. Many of the other youth workers working at the centre had been doing the work their whole lives and were quite burnt out by the shift work (7am -7pm one week and then switched the next) and of course because of the nature of the job. However, when I was hired a different sect of the government had taken over and decided to try to hire someone with fresh views.
I was technically young enough to be living in the shelter, so the kids didn’t view me as an authoritative figure and I was able to get through to them in ways my older co-workers could not. I had access to the kids records and very quickly saw how this was a continuation of the problems brought on by residential schools. Many of the children’s parents had been in the residential school system and were unable to model the nuclear family dynamic because of the trauma they faced while in this broken system. I quickly burnt myself out and made the tough decision to quit as I was not respected by my coworkers and didn’t want to contribute to the cycle of a broken system.
A prime example of how I was dismissed by my coworkers was an incident in which we had a staff meeting over the rise of teen pregnancy. I offered up a solution to put a bowl of condoms on the office desk mixed in with suckers so we could not tell which the kids were going for to alleviate any possible shame. I struggled to find another job and took on a role initially as a programs director in a retirement home. I was so disappointed that I wouldn’t be working with youth. But my very first shift at the home the redirection clicked in and it all made sense.
I ended up also working as a nurses aid, housekeeping, serving in the dining room and working the reception desk. I lived across the street and for 3 years I spent most of my time there. I loved it, but something still felt like it was missing. I never felt like there was enough staff to give adequate care to the 80 plus residents we housed. I also saw the depths of death denial in our culture even from working with it. The facility labeled itself as “semi-independent” but you can get things like dementia overnight so not all of the staff had proper training for the residents needs. The shifts were also usually 12 hours and I again found myself burnt out. I quit and decided to move across the country. I ended up in Edmonton, Alberta. I needed a break from the work and ended up shifting to working in a punk bar called “Filthy Mcnastys”. Although I loved my time in the bar, I got caught up in the lifestyle and for 3 years drank way too much. At 24 I had a profound psychedelic experience that propelled me back onto my path. I cut out the excessive partying and used my education to start facilitating guided sessions for others. I didn’t set out looking for it, but the people around me saw my shifts and it occurred naturally.
I became involved with the psychedelic Society of Calgary, an underground network where once a month other therapists doing this work would get together and share tools and tips. The founder of MAPS Rick Doblin would sometimes Skype in! It was there I met the first death doula in Canada, Sarah Kerr and the pieces I dropped years prior at the retirement home clicked together. My mission to bring death back into the home and help alleviate unnecessary fear surrounding death started then. I went to do additional studying to get my death doula certificate with a program called INELDA. I also studied at the Willow Farm Contemplative Centre in Hygiene, in Colorado. The woman who runs the centre there; Susan Nemcheck studied directly under Roshi Joan Halifax who has been the lead of the positive death and dying movement since the 60s, she was highly affiliated with Ram Dass. Joan Halifax and her former husband Stanislav Grof also did a lot of the research that highlights the benefits of using psychedelic assisted therapy in order to ease the fear around death
Gaia: You are a goddess with many gifts, as I am quickly learning. From what you have told me you are also an Astrologer, you offer Psychedelic Assisted Therapies, Life Reviews, and sex & relationship coaching. You also explained to me in our chat that there is overlap in offerings like your life reviews, astrology readings & psychedelic assisted therapy when you are in sessions with clients. Do you find it difficult to separate the services you offer in sessions? Is there an intentional blending of your offerings or is a natural occurrence?
Jessica: Indeed my work can often overlap. Healing is not linear. I’m grateful I have a myriad of tools to turn to in my toolbox. I’ve been actively studying astrology since I was a child. It started from a Sailor Moon obsession, an anime in which each of the characters are based off of the signs of the zodiac. Astrology is the language of psychology. It’s been around since Babylonian times and was developed cross culturally.
Whenever clients are willing to give the birth information it’s just one extra tool for me to deeper understand them. The life reviews are an intimate process where over the course of a month I get the person to write out their life story. I meet with them once a week as it brings up a lot of stuff. CBT is all about going back into the story, recognizing that we are co-writing our own individual narratives and taking reigns of the pen. I encourage people to challenge where their stories come from if it is even actually their truth and discern which parts of it are useful or not useful to carry forward. There is a mix of intentional blending and it also occurs naturally in my work.
Gaia: Can you explain what a session of psychedelic assisted therapy with you would look like?
Jessica: A psychedelic assisted therapy session will look a bit different from person to person. They all start with me administering the medicine and getting the person to start the process of relaxation and turning off as much of the “thinking brain” as possible. I set people up in soft lighting in a comfortable room with an eye mask and headphones playing binaural beats which are 2 tone frequencies that play between each ear creating a third frequency that will to help ease you into a relaxed meditative state. I encourage people to stick with this for a minimum of one hour but longer if they feel called . In sound healing they say “the healing comes in the silence after the sound” so I get people to sit in silence for as long as they feel comfortable afterward. The medicine does most of the work, I am just there to guide people back to their own inner wisdom if they are having trouble navigating. Some people spend most of the journey inward, some will create art, some need talk therapy; it’s all case by case. People stay overnight and in the morning when the medicine has worn off I do some integrative talk therapy surrounding the experience. I also offer follow up sessions as things can continue to surface in the weeks following.
Gaia: Out of all of the services you offer, is there one you offer that you prefer more or that brings you more excitement?
Jessica: There is no service that I offer that I favour. I love that I do so many different things, it keeps me learning and helps me balance them all. I feel highly blessed and honoured to be able to do all of them equally.
Gaia: What do you feel that you offer as a healer? Personally, not services.
Jessica: Personally I feel my greatest offering as a healer does overlap into my services, I’m not sure if there isn’t anything that I carry in that regard just on a personal level. I would think that it’s my attunement to energetic fields and properties. And my ability to be present and hold space, sometimes that’s for myself or loved ones outside of work.
Gaia: What do you wish for most for your clients when working with them?
Jessica: My highest wish while working with clients is to connect them back to their own inner tools, wisdom and resources and to help ease all unnecessary suffering.
Gaia: Are there any other personal spiritual practices you have? Do you mind sharing about them?
Jessica: My personal spiritual practices include a lot of ritual, I journal daily and connect through engaging in creation, I like to make collages. In the morning I try to write as soon as I wake up as that is when the subconscious is most active and the conscious brain hasn’t had enough time to kick in yet. I write my dreams and then try to keep writing as long as I can. If I get stuck I just write “what wants to come out” until something does. I do a lot of my work on myself, I pull tarot cards, look at my charts for my personal transits as well as what’s happening for the collective and how that will affect me. I work with herbs quite regularly. I engage in other ceremonies that are offered in the community by other healers. I also work with mantra a lot. People often forget that mantra means “mind vehicle” I use it to connect me to spirit. Most importantly I also spend a lot of time in nature to connect and communicate with spirit usually alongside my 3 dogs.
Gaia: Are there any spiritual philosophies, beliefs or paths you are drawn to that you would like to learn more about?
Jessica: I try to be constantly open to new philosophies and spiritual practices. I tend to lean more into the Buddhism side of things but am open to all stories. I also gravitate toward Jung a lot. I try to use the phrase “I believe in..” as little as possible because I think it blocks flow from being open to learning new ways. I try to speak from experience and stay open to the mystery.
Gaia: How do you think you have grown as a person in the last year?
Jessica: I think in the last year my biggest growth has come from the lesson of receiving, a lot of people working to be of service can struggle to take what they give out. I’ve worked very hard with this and have a lot of loving caring supportive people in my life. Learning to let go and surrender are constant teachings that each year I go deeper and deeper into.
Gaia: What is one thing you would like to grow about yourself in 2022?
Jessica: In 2022 I would like to grow my practices, my business, my ability to surrender (truly a life long process) and as cliché as it sounds, my love for all that is.
Gaia: What is your sun sign and do you feel you relate to it? If you know what your moon and ascendant signs are, do you feel like they reflect in your personality?
Jessica: My sun sign is Taurus (where we create from/represents the relationship with the masculine and is developed during your early formative teenage years) , my rising is Libra (view on the world/where the horizon was at when you were born. Some say it becomes more important than your sun sign as you get older ) and my moon is in Aries. (Personal self / relationship with the feminine). I’m also a Capricorn stellium. I definitely relate to all of my makeup but I always say I’m not a typical Taurus. Taurus is fixed but nearly everything else in my chart is cardinal, it’s also in my 8th house which is ruled by Scorpio. Directly linking me to working with sex, death and the taboo.
Gaia: Tell us about more about the readings you offer and other products or services you offer?
Jessica: I like my readings to dive deep (sun in the 8th house showing up again) I like it to be a conversational back and forth with the person I’m reading for. It is a very intimate experience where I can uncover a lot of personality traits and see exactly what is happening in your life at that moment by looking at your daily transits.
Gaia: Where can we find more information about accessing your products and services?
Gaia: What would be in your shopping bag at Gaia Rising?
Jessica: My shopping bag at Gaia always contains incense, sometimes jewelry, a book or tarot related things and sometimes musical instruments (: